The Problem with Pre-Ground Decaf … (and our solutions)

The Problem with Pre-Ground Decaf … (and our solutions)

Becky Wooden 6 mins Read

With 2 out of every 5 UK coffee customers looking to cut down their caffeine intake for the benefit of their health and sleep quality, the importance of a well-executed decaf offering for coffee shops and restaurants has never been more important. We’ve seen this trend in the orders coming into Climpsons HQ, noting a significant increase in the amount of our stand-out Colombian La Plata Decaf roasted year on year. We’ve always loved this coffee (just as much as our caffeinated offerings!) so it’s been a delight to see more of you enjoying it.

But with more and more orders flying in for decaf we also started to hit a pitfall that proved a challenge for our well-oiled production and administration team - to grind or not to grind, that is the question. 

Most of the businesses we work within the wholesale leg of our operations will have a commercial grade espresso grinder, such as our recommended favourite the Mahlkonig E65S. This grinder is the essential piece of kit to serve any espresso coffees with speed and ease, grinding to order. Some cafes will then choose to use a second or even third similar grinder for an alternative espresso. This could be a rotating guest coffee or, you guessed it, a decaf. With this full kit set-up, these businesses can simply order whole beans and grind to order. Easy.

Alternatively, some shops will choose to work with a larger all-rounder grinder such as the Mahlkonig EK43. This multi-purpose grinder can be used for grinding decaf to order, as well as coffees for pour overs, batch brews and bags of retail for at-home customers. A grinder like this is so important for any business that’s all about the coffee.

We also work with many businesses who choose to order our decaf pre-ground, saving the expense on equipment and the bench space of an extra grinder behind the bar. These are often restaurants, bars, shops or offices who don’t necessarily get through the same volume as a solely coffee-focussed venue.

As we started to sell more and more pre-ground decaf, our account management team began to notice a few calls coming in from our wholesale partners who were having problems with this pre-ground coffee, noticing it was lacking in flavour or unable to extract through their machine due to being ground either too fine or too coarse.

We immediately took a look at our systems at the roastery to see what we could improve right away and started implementing the following systems to ensure we were following the best possible practices with our pre-ground coffee orders.

-  After roasting our La Plata Colombian Decaf, we always ensure to rest the coffee for a day before it is ground for espresso.

- When grinding coffee, we make sure the grinder is fully warmed up before we start grinding (this is particularly relevant in the colder months!) We will turn the grinder on and let it run for half an hour before putting any coffee through.


- Once the coffee has been ground, we will then rest it again before packing


- We also regularly ‘dial in’ by pouring an espresso every 5 kgs. We double check the shot by brewing it on our commercial grade espresso machine to make sure it is running correctly.  If it isn't, we readjust the grinder setting and check again.

If you have experienced any issues making the most out of pre-ground coffee, here’s our handy troubleshooting guide.

The grind size problem …

When our coffee is pre-ground it is ground to a specific setting and dialled in according to roast date. This setting is suitable for most espresso machines, however each and every machine is a little different, as well as running on potentially quite varied pressure settings, meaning the coffee we grind at Climpsons roastery may be close, but not spot on for your machine. This means our pre-ground coffee could be either too fine (espresso pouring too slowly, or not at all) or too coarse (espresso pouring too fast) for your recipe.

The first thing to check is the dose of coffee going in. If you’re not currently using scales, invest in a set and start weighing every shot. We suggest beginning with a measured dose of 18g coffee. From this dose, if you notice your shot is running fast (less than 24 seconds) you can explore increasing the dose of your pre-ground coffee to 19g or even 20g. Equally, if your shot is running too slowly (more than 38 seconds) you can explore reducing the dosage to 17g or 16g. This is a great way to make the most out of your pre-ground coffee and save it going to waste.

Climpsons Production Manager Emily Morrison had this to say:

“I don't think there will ever be a one size fits all solution for customers, but I'd urge them to maybe not be quite as strict with how they expect it to run.  We run continuous tests here when we are dialling it in, but our set up won't be the same as everyone else's!  Even if the coffee isn't running at the preferred recipe, try it before you make a judgement. You might be surprised by how good it tastes!”

We also recommend checking to make sure you are tamping the coffee firmly and evenly? An uneven tamp can seriously affect the extraction of an espresso. We recommend following the Weiss Distribution Technique (WDT) as a distribution method when making espresso using pre-ground coffee. Here, a fine needle tool is used to stir the coffee in the portafilter, breaking down any clumps and leading to reduced channelling in the shot.

The coffee that’s been sitting there a little too long problem …

Pre-ground coffee will start to lose its freshness from the moment it’s ground. This means when purchasing anything pre-ground, it’s important to note that it won’t have the same longevity as whole beans and you may need to place an order more regularly to keep a fresh supply in stock. If you’re only using this coffee infrequently, we suggest purchasing in 250g bags to save wastage.

If your decaf is beginning to taste flat or dull, check the roast date to ensure it has been roasted and ground within the last two weeks. If it’s any older, this could be the reason for a coffee that’s lacking its usual brightness.

You could also take a look at the way you’ve been storing the coffee. Pre-ground coffee is best kept in a sealed and closed container. If it’s currently sat in an open coffee bag or a poorly sealed container, this could be a problem.

The best solution?

The best way to solve this problem is to get your hands on a grinder, allowing you to grind your decaf fresh to order. With decaf gaining popularity this is a surefire way to ensure these caffeine-free drinkers leave with the best experience possible and keep coming back for more. You could either invest in a time or weight controlled espresso grinder for a swift and easy service, or if you also make batch brew or grind retail bags of coffee, consider a bench grinder that you can use to grind decaf throughout the day.

Or you could use your existing espresso grinder to grind a day's worth of decaf before service. Climpson & Sons Account Manager Natasha Yeo suggests:

“Alternatively, you could grind a day's worth of decaf before opening through your current grinder when it's empty and then use the grinder for the Estate throughout the day. This is a best-of-both worlds scenario as it's ground fresher than if we were to grind it, but saves the expense of buying another grinder.” 

Our coffees are best ground as fresh as possible, resulting in the best extraction and flavour. If you’re a wholesale customer considering improving your decaf offering, get in touch with your account manager to find out more.

Looking for coffee solutions for your business? Head to our wholesale page to find out more about using our coffees in your cafe, restaurant, bar or office.

Climpsons Journal